For the Centennial of the Great War 1914-1918, the three-part exhibit presents the changes in French and German monetary systems generated by World War I, in particular:
1. The disappearance of gold from circulation and the communication about its surrender to the State
2. The development of emergency currency (especially paper) and its uses
3. German war paper currency art
CURRENCY OR THE THIRD FRONT DURING THE GREAT WAR
First, there were two front during the Great War: the first was a bloody, military front, held by soldiers in the trenches, on the sea and in the air. The second was a laborious front, or behind the lines, held by miners, workers and farmers. During this war of positions and attrition, the first front protected the second who enabled the first to hold out against the enemy. However, neither of the two fronts could have resisted if the third had not been set up, even before the start of the War: a monetary front!
The exhibit hopes to explain this key period in modern monetary history that is particularly characterised by the gradual demonetization of gold then silver and the increasing use of paper money (and postal checks) through its exceptional collection and documents from archives on loan from partner institutions. The monetary mobilization of an army of savings, to quote the saying from that period! In addition, the exhibit shed light on productions from across the Rhine from the same era, that we can easily call…unusual!
AN EXHIBIT THANKS TO MUSEUM’S INVENTORY
Since 2002, French museums are legally required to verify collections every decade. The verification process ensures that collections are conform to content listed on inventories. The 11 Conti Museum – labelled “Musée de France” – must comply with the regulation and has already verified over 120.000 objects. Although stringent, the verification process is also an occasion for conservatory teams to review all of the collections.
During the operation, the outstanding significance of the collection of paper money at the Monnaie de Paris (26.150 items) became obvious, particularly the large amount of items from the period between 1880 and 1930. This exhibit is the result of museum inventory and it intends to highlight the monetary changes that took place during the war 1914-1918. Or when objects speak for themselves about their time and the daily life of citizens.
Since 2002, museums in France have been obliged to comply with a new law regarding decennial inventory checking, a process which verifies that the condition of collections correspond to what is written in inventory registers. The Musée du 11 Conti – labeled “Musée de France” – is no exception and has already checked more than 120,000 objects. Although a lengthy and tedious process, it provides the opportunity for conservation teams to inspect the entire collection. This is what led to the unearthing of the Monnaie de Paris’ collection of 26,150 paper money, in particular a significant number of items which date from 1880 to 1930. The exhibition, a result of the inventory checking process, intends to highlight the monetary transformations that occurred during the 1914-1918 conflict. Objects inform us about their times and the everyday lives of citizens…
There are two fronts which mark the Great War. The first, military and bloody, held by soldiers in the trenches, sea and air. The second, “from behind”, laborious, and held by miners, workers and peasants. In this trench warfare of attrition, each front works to help the other. Yet neither could have held if a third, monetary front had not been established before the outbreak of the war! The exhibition seeks to highlight the monetary transformations which occured in France as a result of the conflict. It also focuses in particular on the gradual demonetisation of gold and then silver, as well as the increase in the use of paper money. Beyond this, the exhibition provides a perspective on German productions of the same period, which could easily be qualified as atypical.
1. The War Effort
1918 France: public war-related expenditure amounts to nearly 150 billion francs. How was the conflict financed? And what impact did this have on the everyday circulation of money? War bonds and the “Gold Campaign” played a key role.
The circulation of money in France in 1914
On the eve of the First World War, gold and silver circulated on a daily basis and were vectors of emblematic symbols: the rooster of the engraver Chaplain on 10 and 20 franc coins and Oscar Roty’s female sower on 1 and 2 franc coins. Everything seemed to be going well. Yet political tensions were rising. Ever since the 1870 defeat against Prussia, France had been preparing for revenge and its expenditure on arms continued to increase. A secret plan was drawn up, according to which, in the event of a conflict, the convertibility of gold, as well as the progressive conversion of gold and silver coins to notes of the same value, would be suspended. Everything seemed to be ready on the French side! On the 3rd of August 1914, Germany declared war on France. Everyone thought that it would be a lightning war…
The relocation of workshops and new forms of money
To prevent enemy advances, the production of metallic coins – which up until then occured at the Monnaie de Paris Hotel – was relocated in 1914 to Rochefort (Charente-Maritime) and Casltelsarrasin (Tarn-et-Garonne). By decree, dated the 10th of July 1914, all types of centime (struck in copper then copper-nickel) decreased in weight, as demonstrated by the famous 10 and 25 cent “coins with holes” signed by Lindauer. However, France needed a strong franc, in particular in order to obtain loans from Anglo-Saxon banks. As of March 1915, the issuing of coins was limited, increasing the shortage effect at a local level. As for gold that had to ensure the credibility of France, it needed to be taken out of woollen stockings!
The “Gold Campaign”
“In order to bring forward a victorious end to the war, exchange your gold for banknotes”, proclaim posters! Gold coins “au coq” became players in a propaganda campaign intended to defeat the enemy. For this reason, and while the soldiers were shedding their blood, Abel Faivre’s famous poster “Give your Gold for France” is an extraordinary statement. Soldiers will often sacrifice more than gold…
War bonds and war loans
“Because France must be rich to be strong” – posters proclaim – the French can now invest in war bonds issued by the Treasury. With values ranging from 100 to 1000 francs, these bonds were valid for 3 to 12 months and paid 5% interest that was payable in advance! In the absence of alternative deals, the success was immediate: between 1914 and 1918, 30 billion francs was raised. Alexandre Ribot, Minister of Finance, also advocates the launch of so-called Follow us! 3. THE LEGENDARY ART OF NOTGELD Far from a vision of crisis and misfortune, the German and Austrian Notgeld provides a different view of the emergency money. In addition to the quality of the engraving (xylography, chisel on copper, etching or laid paper), there is flair, style, colour, and a deep sense of exaltation and a national narrative. These forms of money are, not without reason, treated with special care by the authorities. The hyperinflation of Weimar Republic (1918 – 1933) 1918, the end of the war looms and with it, the defeat of Germany. Economic collapse awaits. To be able to repay its debt, the Weimar Republic (established on the 9th of November 1918) promoted a hyperinflation system. “Playing” with the printing of notes, the State printed thousands, millions, even billions of Marks… A Mark that is no longer worth anything! “Collector” banknotes It was in this context that the astonishing phenomenon of the Notgeld (German and Austrian emergency coins and banknotes) developed. These local “consolidation” bonds. This was another success, with the fundraising in 1918 totaling nearly 55 billion francs! The press was not wrong in calling Ribot, at the head of a real “army of savings”, “Generalissimo of the French army’s billions”
2. “Paper please, paper!” From Coins And Notes To Money Tokens
“Paper please, paper!” was the appeal launched by Louis Latzarus at the end of his article “The coin strike”, published in the newspaper L’Avenir. Although dated 1920, this appeal bears witness to the recurrent lack of small coins since the beginning of the conflict. A shortage so glaring that as of the 1st of August 1914, sales could no longer take place on credit. All purchases had to be made in cash. Wages were paid daily in small change. Out of necessity, local authorities, with the implicit agreement of the State, came together to confront the problem, thus relieving the State of the burden.
The situation in the occupied zone
In the ten departments fully or partially occupied from 1914 to 1918, the municipalities continued to issue coins. From August 1914, Nancy, then Lille and Roubaix launched the issuing of “Coupon money”. These cities were quickly followed by most others in the occupied area. As these local currencies had no counter value (legal monetary equivalent), they were monetary creations based exclusively on trust between users and traders. It is important to remember that in 1916, the occupying forces stipulated that tokens were to be issued on the scale of communal unions.
The situation in the free zone
In the free zone, it was mainly the Chambers of Commerce who managed the future of paper money. Limoges, Paris and Lyon led the way in August 1914. All of France – including its colonies – was affected by the phenomenon… Although the official existence of this local currency was adopted by the State, this did not take place in an legal context and its circulation was only tolerated by the authorities. However, unlike the occupied zone’s communal currencies, these tokens clearly represent the split of legal payments made at the Bank of France in either cash or in war bonds. The Bank of France did not create money out of nowhere, the bonds were of an equivalent value to the existing money. The Bank of France’s privilege remained intact. Ultimately, between August 1914 and May 1924, the date of the last issue, nearly 668 million francs in emergency money were issued by 124 (out of 150) Chambers. Cardboard and aluminum tokens were manufactured at the end of the war, and indeed several years following the end of the conflict. The coin stamps patented FYP (“Fallait y penser”) which translates to “Had to think of it” is particularly striking!
Food vouchers In addition to emergency money, food vouchers also existed. These cardboard tickets were distributed by organisations, (the Comity for Relief in Belgium for example), in charge of helping feed the civil or military population, whether free or in detention camps. Other tickets, issued by small businesses, existed for smaller exchanges. As for the detention camps, ticket-tokens helped to improve the daily life of prisoners by enabling them to purchase tobacco or letter-paper
The exchange of tokens The end of 1918: gold reserve had not reached the 20% of the fiduciary mass* in circulation! The metal cover was insufficient in restoring the convertibility of the franc to its prior forms. And the return of the financial supply consisted of awaiting payments that were too big on the state. Coins were, and were to remain, fiduciary, with no return to the gold standard. These emergency forms of money were nevertheless gradually reimbursed (and cancelled out by punch holes or stamps) in official currency. It was not until 1926 (with a law passed on the 13th of January) that the emergency forms of money were permanently prohibited from circulation, in favour of the state coins whose circulation, which was already effective, was to become exclusive from then on.
3. The Legendary Art Of Notgeld
Far from a vision of crisis and misfortune, the German and Austrian Notgeld provides a different view of the emergency money. In addition to the quality of the engraving (xylography, chisel on copper, etching or laid paper), there is flair, style, colour, and a deep sense of exaltation and a national narrative. These forms of money are, not without reason, treated with special care by the authorities.
The hyperinflation of Weimar Republic (1918 – 1933)
1918, the end of the war looms and with it, the defeat of Germany. Economic collapse awaits. To be able to repay its debt, the Weimar Republic (established on the 9th of November 1918) promoted a hyperinflation system. “Playing” with the printing of notes, the State printed thousands, millions, even billions of Marks… A Mark that is no longer worth anything!
It was in this context that the astonishing phenomenon of the Notgeld (German and Austrian emergency coins and banknotes) developed. These local notes, first issued during the war, are very similar to the French equivalents, both in their mode of issuing and in their aesthetics. However, from 1922- 1923 the phenomenon surprisingly started changing. In order to avoid exchanging their notgeld for legal currency, cities (the major issuers) by underlining the quality and beauty of the banknotes, encouraged citizens to keep them! Notes thus emerged with a graphic quality and thematic originality that was unparalleled at the time. In most cases notes of the same value but of differing designs were issued, some even with “collector” pockets!
These notes often work in series. The Erfurt (1921) series mentioned pertains to the fourth centenary of Luther’s arrival in 1521 before the Diet of Worms. The iconography of the remarkable Naumburg notes evoke the Hussiten-Kirschfest, a celebration commemorating the siege of the city by the Hussites in 1432. The facts recalled in a song by K.-F.Seyferth written in 1832 and Walter Hege uses to illustrate, in 1920, the series of 12 Notgeld of the city. As for Poβneck’s banknotes, they echo Goethe’s Hermann and Dorothea (1797), which was supposed to have taken place in the city, and which highlights the work values and virtues of the bourgeoisie.
Germany and its borders
The banknotes do not fail to raise the question of the unity of the German Empire in the aftermath of the conflict. References to plebiscites are abundant – imposed by the Treaty of Versailles (the 28th of June 1919) – which allows populations (and nationalities) living near the border to decide whether or not they belong to German territory: Slevig, Süderbrarup with regard to neighboring Denmark and Johannisburg to Poland. The banknotes also evoke the African dream that Germany developed in Cameroon, Togo, Namibia, Rwanda… many colonies that the same Treaty of Versailles will redistribute to the victors.
Curious materials for banknotes
Like the vividly coloured paper banknotes, the German and Austrian issuing bodies produced money made from selected materials that do not suggest any sort of crisis: banknotes made of fabric, wood, coin tokens made of glazed earthenware or porcelain enhanced with fine gold are some astonishing examples. The “collector” implications of these objects, confirmed by their fragility, are evident, as much as they portray an industry already in full recovery
Founded in 864, Monnaie de Paris is France’s longest standing institution and the oldest enterprise in the world. It fulfils the public service mission of striking the euro coins in circulation for France, as well as coins for other foreign currencies. For twelve centuries, it has cultivated a venerable tradition of metalworking arts and crafts. It was Paris first industrial establishment and is the last in operation today. Artistic pieces are still produced at its historic Quai de Conti manufacture.
Attached to the French ministry for the economy, finances and industry since 1796, Monnaie de Paris became an Etablissement public industriel et commercial (EPIC, an official designation for state-funded industrial and commercial institutions) in January 2007.